Gerhard Mercator

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Gerhard Mercator, copper engraving by Frans Hogenberg , 1574
Short film about Mercator as a cartographer

Gerhard Mercator (* March 5, 1512 in Rupelmonde , County of Flanders ; † December 2, 1594 in Duisburg , United Duchies of Jülich-Kleve-Berg ) was a geographer and cartographer who was already regarded as the Ptolemy of his time during his lifetime the Arab-Islamic world was famous. His real name was Gheert Cremer (Latinized Gerardus Mercator ("businessman"), German also Gerhard Krämer ).

Known today primarily as a cartographer and globe maker , Mercator was also of great importance as a cosmographer , theologian and philosopher in the 16th century and set standards as a type artist.


Years of life in Flanders

Earth globe, signed by Mercator with the date 1541; is now in the Palazzo Ducale in Urbania and is said to be one of 22 existing globes
One of the remaining celestial globes on display in the
Urbania Museum

Mercator was born as the seventh child of Hubert Cremer and his wife Emerentia in Rupelmonde, southwest of Antwerp. Up to the age of six he spent his childhood in Gangelt , 120 km away , where his father was a shoemaker. In 1518 the family moved entirely to Rupelmonde and after the death of his father in 1526 Gerhard was brought up by the brothers from their common life in Herzogenbusch with the support of his uncle Gisbert, who was a clergyman in Rupelmonde . Among other things, Georgius Macropedius was his teacher here.

From 1530 Gerhard studied at the University of Leuven under Gemma Frisius , received his master's degree in 1532 and then pursued private studies in theology, philosophy and mathematics, especially in their practical applications (maps, globes and instruments). From 1534 to 1537 Mercator was involved in the creation of Gemma Frisius' earth and celestial globes as an employee .

In 1536 he married Barbara Schellekens, who gave birth to their first son Arnold in 1537 . In 1537 he created the first map Amplissima Terrae Sanctae descriptio ad utriusque Testamenti intelligentiam . In 1538 he created his first world map. In the same year his first daughter was born, who was christened Emerance after Mercator's mother. In 1539 the second daughter Dorothéa followed.

Also in 1539, Mercator published a map of Flanders, which attracted the king's attention. In 1541 Mercator brought out his first globe, which was sold in large numbers over decades. In the years 1540 and 1541, the two sons Bartholomäus (1540–1568) and Rumold were born. In 1542 the daughter Katharina followed as the sixth and last child.

It is questionable whether Mercator obtained a theological doctorate. In 1544 he was arrested for "Lutherey" (as a supporter of Martin Luther's Reformation ) and imprisoned for many months. During this time, Philipp Melanchthon's main scientific work, Initia Doctrinae Physicae (1549), was published, which is likely to have had a great influence on Mercator. The correspondence with Melanchthon, discovered only recently, has not yet been evaluated.

In 1551 Mercator made the celestial globe complementary to his globe from 1541 for the first time. From then on these globes were mostly sold in pairs, of which at least 22 still exist.

Relocation to Duisburg

Mercator's house in Duisburg 1566, engraved by Johannes Corputius

In 1551 Wilhelm the Rich invited him to become professor of cosmography at the University of Duisburg, which was to be newly founded . Mercator accepted the offer and in 1552 moved to Duisburg, where he lived in a house on Oberstrasse; whether reasons of belief played a decisive role is controversial. In any case, he lived safe from hostility in the city in the Duchy of Cleves , which was characterized by religious tolerance .

From 1559 to 1562 he worked as a teacher of mathematics and cosmography at the newly founded Duisburg Academic Gymnasium , today's Landfermann Gymnasium . A student of Mercator from 1562 was Johannes Corputius , who in 1566 produced the extraordinarily exact cityscape of Duisburg named after him, the Corputius plan . The university was never founded during Mercator's lifetime, although the duke had received papal permission in 1564 and the imperial privilege to establish it in 1566.

The big world map

Cover picture of the London edition of the Mercator Atlas of 1637

Mercator achieved world fame with his large world map from 1569 (Nova et aucta orbis terrae descriptio ad usum navigantium) . Possibly inspired by Erhard Etzlaub , he developed a projection that is still important for seafaring (and aviation) because of its angular accuracy, which became known as the “ Mercator projection ”. According to John Vermeulen , Mercator worked with his contemporary Abraham Ortelius .

In the 1570s, Mercator published theological writings, most of which were unknown, or at least ignored, until recently. He dealt with the theology of the Swiss Reformed. He is also likely to have been inspired by the so-called "Christian physics" of Lambertus Danaeus , a pupil of Calvin .

At about the same time as the world map, Mercator's theologically shaped world history Chronologia appeared. Hoc est temporum demonstratio exactissima, ab initio mundi usque ad annum Domini MDLXVIII (1568). Further cartographic work was followed in 1590 by the commentary on the Letter to the Romans, which so far is only available as a manuscript in Leiden , in which he worked out the theological-systematic basis for his cosmography. The Chronologia was listed as a forbidden book by the Catholic Church in the appendix to the Council of Trent in 1563 .

The main work

Epitaph in the Sankt-Salvator-Kirche Duisburg

Shortly before his death, Mercator completed the main work, the cosmography Atlas, sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et fabricati figura , which was published posthumously in 1595 by Mercator's son Rumold. So far, it has mainly been the cards that have been noted, occasionally they even appeared without the text. Particularly noteworthy is the christological orientation, which fundamentally differs from medieval cosmographies up to Sebastian Münster .

The atlas was also added to the index by decree of the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of August 7, 1603 .

Mercator died in 1594 a respected and wealthy man. His grave in the Salvatorkirche in Duisburg is lost, only his magnificent epitaph is still there.


Mercator saw himself more as a scientific cosmographer than someone who had to make a living making and selling maps. His production was quite extensive: we know twelve pairs of globes (heaven and earth), five wall maps, many maps of regions, world maps as well as a chronology (with Gospel harmony ) and cosmography. Many of his works are now exhibited in the treasury of the Duisburg City Museum of Culture and City History .

Globes (selection)

  • Collaboration on the terrestrial globe by Gemma Frisius
  • Earth globe from 1541 with 41 cm diameter and loxodromes
  • Celestial globe from 1551 with a diameter of 41 cm


Mercator projection
  • Amplissima Terrae Sanctae descriptio ad utriusque Testamenti intelligentiam a wall map of the Holy Land made up of 6 sheets from 1537.
  • A wall map of Flanders in nine sheets 1540.
  • A map of the world in a heart-shaped projection of the northern and southern hemispheres.

We only know four wall maps from the Duisburg period:

  • Europæ descriptio , a wall map of Europe from 1554 in 15 sheets (159 × 132 cm) (revised in 1572). With the appearance of this map, the long outdated Ptolemaic view of the world was largely corrected. The mutual position of the European countries is shown correctly for the first time. Mercator's map of Europe served as a benchmark for a century and a half.
  • a map of Lorraine 1563/1564.
  • Angliæ, Scotiæ et Hiberniæ nova descriptio , a wall map of the British Isles in eight sheets from 1564.
  • Nova et aucta orbis terræ descriptio ad usum navigantium emendate accomodata , 1569, the large wall map of the world in 21 sheets with a total size of 134 × 212 cm.

This last card can rightly be called Mercator's masterpiece. It is the first world map to use a conformal projection ( Mercator projection ).


After the world map was published, Mercator shifted more and more to the production of a cosmography. Mercator had big plans: a huge cosmographic work about creation, its origin and its history.

He wrote the first ideas for this in 1569 in the introduction to his Chronologia . The cosmography would consist of five parts:

  • Chronology, published in 1569.
  • The creation of the world (published after his death as an introduction to the atlas of 1595)
  • Description of the sky (never appeared)
  • Description of the countries and lakes in three parts:
    • Modern geography (the atlas, unfinished, see below)
    • Ptolemy's Maps, issued 1578.
    • Ancient geography (not realized)
  • Genealogy and political history (only published as accompanying texts to the maps in the atlas)

Mercator's scientific attitude became his fate. Again and again he postponed the publication of his work in the hope of new information. The cartographic part of his cosmography was therefore only partially completed.

First his Ptolemy edition of 1578 was made. Mercator saw this edition merely as a representation of the world according to the ideas of the classical authors. The 28 Ptolemaic maps have never been included in any other atlas, while they were reissued in 1730.

Map of Europe

It wasn't until 1585, fifteen years after the Theatrum was issued , that Mercator came up with an unfinished edition of his 'Modern Geography'.

The map book contains 51 maps: 16 from France , nine from the Netherlands and 26 from Germany . He had the most reliable descriptions of these countries. Each part has its own title page : Galliae Tabulae Geographicae , Belgii Inferioris Geographicae Tabulae and Germaniae tabulae geographicae . The whole thing still had no title.

In 1589 22 maps of Southeastern Europe , Italiae, Sclavoniae et Graeciae tabulae geographicae followed . Unfortunately, Mercator did not have the opportunity to expand his Tabulae Geographicae into a real world atlas with a scope of around 120 maps according to his original planning .

A year after his death, his son Rumold Mercator issued a 34-card supplement. It contains 29 maps of the missing parts of Europe ( Iceland , the British Isles and the Northern and Eastern European countries) engraved by Gerhard Mercator .


Title copper for the atlas of Gerhard Mercator, which was published one year after his death by his son Rumold Mercator

Rumold's “complete edition” has its own title page and foreword. The title is Atlas sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et Fabricati Figura (Atlas or cosmographic meditations on the creation of the world and the form of creation).

Mercator explained the choice of the title Atlas in an introduction. According to this, the name is derived from the mythical king and first astrologer Atlas of Mauritania , which, according to Mercator's description and the accompanying family table, was the atlas of Greek mythology. Mercator refers to the stories in Diodorus .

“So it is my destiny to imitate this atlas, a man as outstanding in literacy, humanity and wisdom as to look at cosmography from a high watchtower, as far as my strength and ability allow, to see whether I possibly through my diligence I can find some truths in as yet unknown things, which could serve the study of wisdom. "

Atlas is depicted on the title copper of Mercator's Atlas with a celestial and an earth globe.

The work begins with a biography of Gerardus Mercator, written by the Duisburg councilor Walter Ghim, followed by the atlas mythology. The first part is Mercator's work on the creation of Mundi Creatione et Fabrica Liber . The 107 cards form the second part.

Page from Gerhard Mercator's writer book, Leuven 1540

Lettering art

It is characteristic of his understanding as a scientist of the Renaissance that the clarity of his thinking was permeated by high demands on the aesthetics of the representation. In the history of font development, Mercator also occupies an important place as a master scribe .

In 1540 he brought out instructions for writing the Italian italics : Literarum latinarum, quas Italicas, cursoriasque vocant scribendarum ratio . He was not only one of the first typeface artists north of the Alps to popularize this space-saving and clear Latin font over the Gothic script as part of a scribbler book, but he was also the first to use this cursive for writing on the cards.

His instructions (52 pages) were initially cut in wood and were reprinted in the same year and in 1549, 1550, 1556 and 1557. With the later application of the copper engraving , the elegant design of this font could come into its own. Mercator thus set aesthetic standards for the lettering of the cards and thus shaped the card style for the following two hundred years.


Deutsche Bundespost: 500th birthday of Gerhard Mercator (2012)
Numerous globes in Duisburg are reminiscent of Gerhard Mercator. This one is at the southern entrance to the city in Huckingen .
Statue at the Mercator Fountain , Burgplatz in Duisburg , created in 1878 by Anton Josef Reiss

The University of Duisburg , founded in 1655, is closed in 1818. The Comprehensive University of Duisburg , which was newly founded in 1972, had been called the "Gerhard Mercator University" since 1994, until it merged with the University of Essen in 2003 to form the new University of Duisburg-Essen . On Campus Duisburg consisting Mercator School of Management .

Furthermore, the Duisburg Mercator-Gymnasium , a Berlin elementary school, an event and congress center ( Mercatorhalle ), a shopping center in Duisburg- Meiderich and a vocational college in Moers are named after him, as well as the southern Ringstrasse Mercatorstrasse / Kremerstrasse in downtown Duisburg and a Duisburg Excursion boat. In the Mercator barracks in Euskirchen , among other things, the Office for Geoinformation of the Bundeswehr is stationed.

The Mercator-Gesellschaft Duisburg, an association for history and local history, has also existed since 1950.

The Mercator plaque for special merits, particularly in the scientific or artistic field, is awarded by the city of Duisburg at irregular intervals. So far, sponsors have been, for example, the founding rectors of Duisburg University, as well as heads of culture and general music directors, but also the actor Hans Caninenberg and the painter Heinz Trökes .

There is also the Mercator Foundation founded by a family of entrepreneurs from Duisburg . It is one of the large foundations in Germany and promotes particularly in the areas of integration, climate change and cultural education.

The lunar crater Mercator was named after him in 1935, the asteroid (4798) Mercator has been named after him since 1991.

A memorial was also erected in his honor in Gangelt, where Mercator grew up from 1512 to 1518. The so-called Mercator point is located at the confluence point of the 6th degree of longitude and the 51st degree of latitude, on the northern edge of the main town of Gangelt.

Museums and exhibitions

  • The world's only dedicated Mercator Museum is located in Sint-Niklaas ( Belgium ). It shows his life and work.
  • The Duisburg Museum of Culture and City History shows Mercator's work in a separate area, the treasury , with valuable maps, books and globes.
  • Mercator atlases in the Duisburg-Essen University Library, Duisburg Campus: permanent exhibition from January 29, 1997.
  • 500 years of Gerhard Mercator - From the worldview of the Renaissance to the map of the modern age; from March 10 to June 10, 2012 at the Museum for Art and Cultural History Dortmund; Special exhibition of the Förderkreis Vermessungstechnisches Museum e. V. in the Museum for Art and Cultural History Dortmund


  • Gerardus Mercator: Literarum latinarum, quas italicas, cursoriasque vocant, scribendarum ratio. Louvain 1540; Edition: Facs. Louvain 1540; Published: Nieuwkoop: Miland Publ., 1970.
  • Evangelicae historiae quadripartita Monas, sive Harmonias quatuor Evangelistarum… / digesta et demonstrata per Gerardum Mercatorem. - Duysburgi: Cliuorum, 1592. Digitized edition of the University and State Library Düsseldorf
  • Germaniae tabulae geographicae. - Duisburg: Gerhard Mercator the Elder Ä., 1594. Digitized edition
    • 1. Germaniae tabulae geographicae. 1594.
    • 2. Galliae tabulae geographicae. 1594.
    • 3. Belgii inferioris geographicae tabulae. 1594.
  • Atlas Sive Cosmographicae Meditationes De Fabrica Mvndi Et Fabricati Figura. - Dvisbvrgi Clivorvm: Mercator, 1595. Digitized edition
  • Atlas minor, that is a short but thorough description of the whole world. Amsterodami, Nicolai; Arnhemi, Janssonius, 1609. Digitized


  • Arthur BreusingMercator, Gerhard . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 21, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1885, pp. 385-397.
  • Manfred Büttner (ed.): New ways in Mercator research. Mercator as a universal scientist. Treatises on the history of geosciences and religion / environmental research. Brockmeyer, Bochum 1992, 1995, ISBN 3-8196-0077-9 .
  • Michael Föllmer, Ruth Löffler, Werner Pöhling, The World of Gerhard Mercator: Maps, Atlases and Globes from Duisburg, Duisburg, Duisburg Cultural and City History Museum and Mercator-Verlag, 2006
  • Walter Ghim: Vita celeberrimi clarissimiq [ue] viri Gerardi Mercatoris Rupelmundani , à Domino Gualtero Ghymmio, Patricio Teutoburgensi, ac eiusdem oppidi antiquißimi Praetore dignißimo, conscripta. In: Gerardi Mercatoris Atlas sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et fabricati figura . Busius, Düsseldorf 1595 ( digitized version of the University and State Library Düsseldorf).
  • Nicholas Crane: The Descriptor of the World. Scholar, Heretic, Cosmographer - How Gerhard Mercator's Maps Changed the World. Droemer Knaur, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-426-27224-5 .
  • Rolf Kirmse: Gerhard Mercator's Great Map of Flanders (1540) - a Politicum? In: Heike Frosien-Leinz (Red.): From Flanders to the Lower Rhine: Economy and culture overcome borders. Accompanying volume to the exhibition, published by the city of Duisburg - The Lord Mayor, Museum of Culture and City History Duisburg 2000, ISBN 3-89279-560-6 , pp. 41–66.
  • Hans-Georg Kraume: Novum gymnasium linguarum et philosophiae: the Duisburg Academic Gymnasium 1559–1563. In: Heike Frosien-Leinz (Red.): From Flanders to the Lower Rhine: Economy and culture overcome borders. Duisburg 2000, pp. 100-111.
  • Hans-Georg Kraume: Gerhard Mercator. Forerunners, contemporaries, aftermath, on his 500th birthday in 2012. (= Duisburger Forschungen 59) Mercator-Verlag , Duisburg 2013, ISBN 3-87463-532-5 .
  • Peter van der Krogt: Mercator - his atlases and his contemporaries. In: Gerhard Mercator and his world. Edited by Rienk Vermij. Mercator-Verlag, Duisburg 1997, ISBN 3-87463-254-7 , pp. 110-131.
  • Uta LindgrenMercator, Gerhard. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 17, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-428-00198-2 , pp. 112-115 ( digitized version ).
  • Gerhard Mercator (Kartogr.), Wilhelm Krücken (Ed.): World map ad usum navigantium. Duisburg 1569. (Reprint: scaled down reprod. After the original print of the University Library of Basel. Mercator-Verlag, Duisburg 1994, ISBN 3-87463-211-3 )
  • Wolfgang Scharfe (Ed.): Gerhard Mercator and his time. (= Duisburg research 42). Braun , Duisburg 1996, ISBN 3-87096-053-1 .
  • Ute Schneider , Stefan Brakensiek (eds.): Gerhard Mercator. Science and knowledge transfer. Scientific Book Society , Darmstadt 2015, ISBN 978-3-534-26451-3 .
  • Andrew Taylor: The World of Gerard Mercator: The Mapmaker Who Revolutionized Geography. Frank R. Walker Co., New York 2004, ISBN 0-8027-1377-7 .
  • Rienk Vermij (Ed.): Gerhard Mercator and his world. Mercator-Verlag, Duisburg 1997, ISBN 3-87463-254-7 .
  • John Vermeulen: Between God and the Sea: Novel about the life and work of Gerhard Mercator. Diogenes, Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-257-06495-0 .
  • J. Lwbg .: "After Mercator's Projection" . In: The Gazebo . Issue 36, 1878, pp. 592-594 ( full text [ Wikisource ]).
  • George Kish: Mercator, Geradus . In: Charles Coulston Gillispie (Ed.): Dictionary of Scientific Biography . tape 9 : AT Macrobius - KF Naumann . Charles Scribner's Sons, New York 1974, p. 309-310 .

Web links

Commons : Gerardus Mercator  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

About Mercator

Works online


Individual evidence

  1. ^ The museum in Urbania with the two globes by Mercator. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  2. On the origin of the family cf. Joseph Kuhl: History of the city of Jülich in particular of the former grammar school in Jülich , part 1 The particular school. 1571-1664 . Fischer, Jülich 1891, p. 33 ( digitized version of the University and City Library Cologne).
  3. via Gerardus Mercator.
  4. a b L. Bagrow , RA Skelton: Master of Cartography . Safari-Verlag, Berlin 1963 (with 22 color plates, 118 art print plates, 79 maps in the text and biographical information on 1291 cartographers)
  5. Michael Föllmer, Ruth Löffler, Werner Pöhling: The world of Gerhard Mercator: Maps, atlases and globes from Duisburg . Culture and City History Museum Duisburg and Mercator-Verlag, Duisburg 2006, p. 83.
  6. ^ Kai Thomas Platz: Excavations in and around Gerhard Mercator's house . In: Archeology in the Rhineland . Theiss, Darmstadt 2013, ISBN 978-3-8062-2842-7 , pp. 211-213 .
  7. a b INDEX LIBRORUM PROHIBITORUM Sanctissimi Domini Nostri Pii Sexti Pontificis Maximi iussu editus et sub Piu Septimo ad annum usque MDCCCVI continuatus . Rome 1806, p. 203 (Latin).
  8. ^ Friedrich Kluge : Etymological dictionary of the German language. 6th edition. 2. Abdruck, 1905, p. 22 limited preview in the Google book search
  9. ^ Diodorus , Book III, 60 and IV, 27
  10. AS Osley: Canons of Renaissance Handwriting. In: Visible Language. Volume XIII, Number 1, Ohio 1979, pp. 73 and Figure 4.
  11. Ben Engelhart: Inleiding tot de calligrafie. Wolters, Groningen 1966, p. 28.
  12. ^ Alfred Fairbank: A book of scripts. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1949, plate 35.
  13. Gerard Mercator: Literarum latinarum, quas italicas, cursoriasque vocant scribendarum ratio . (online at: )
  14. ^ Uta Lindgren: Mercator, Gerhard. In: New German Biography. (NDB). Volume 17, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-428-00198-2 , pp. 112-115.
  15. ^ History of the Gangelt community. In: Retrieved July 29, 2020 .
  16. Mercatormuseum, Dutch